The UN's 57th Commission on the Status of Women ended late Friday night, and we finally got our signed document. What a saga. It was a struggle, and though it didn't end up containing language to explicitly defend girls and women from discrimination or violence based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender -- nevertheless, it's a win for women everywhere. I was a member of the U.S. Delegation -- a Public Delegate at the U.S. Mission -- and as such, had a unique view of the inner workings of the United Nations, and what it takes to get something done. Ahhh. Our delegation joined thousands of women, girls, and men from around the globe who were part of the delegations of 45 rotating representatives of the 193 Member States of the UN. Along with numerous NGOs, and girls groups, like Girls Learn Int'l, and Spark and boys/men groups like White Ribbon and Men Can Stop Rape. It was a bit overwhelming -- but in a good way.
When you contemplate what it really takes to get consensus on a resolution, statement or any such document at the UN that places accountability squarely on its 193 member states to 'do right, or we'll call you out publicly,' just close your eyes for a moment and imagine our own Congress trying to pass a bill. Got that image? Now think about them doing it while they're all speaking different languages -- so picture them with gadgets on their ears, and interpreters in the back of the room. Now imagine them attempting to accomplish this mission in two weeks time. A daunting task to say the least. I'm not sure the American public has a sense of how complicated this whole process was, or if, for that matter, there is broad awareness of the history of this commission, and the document we were all aspiring to adopt, but here is a quick synopsis. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was established in 1946 by ECOSOC -- the Economic and Social Council, or Third Committee of the United Nations. The CSW is a functional body of the UN, and every year, 45 representatives of the 193 Member States gather to evaluate issues of gender equality and women's empowerment worldwide. Clearly, our status is not a new issue. UN Women was created by the United Nations in 2010 as the UNs entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women -- to accelerate women's goals, and to galvanize support and resources for women's programs.
Also annually, a priority theme is determined, and this year's theme was "The Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls," a subject which is sadly apropos for the times we live in. One can't pick up a paper or read a Twitter feed without gazing at gruesome details of yet another gang rape, human trafficking ring, or domestic abuse death. The statistic that one in three women will be sexually assaulted in our lifetimes is horrific, but chillingly real. Bear in mind -- there are victims to consider here.
That being said, getting governments to agree to take steps to end violence against women has been a long, drawn-out process, even though reliable data and research have shown that preventing VAW benefits not only the women victims, but society as a whole. Suffice it to say that bringing all 193 countries into consensus wasn't easy, and it didn't happen without hard work and drama. There were many member states who expressed reservations about the document, including Russia and the non-voting but permanent member, the Holy See.
Those who disagreed most vehemently with the UN's Commission on the Status of Women's document were mostly from conservative Muslim countries, which focused their ire on references to women's sexual and reproductive rights, and equality in marriage and other human rights. There were moments during the negotiations when media reports from Egypt grew inflammatory, with the Muslim Brotherhood proclaiming that adopting such a proposal would result in "the compete disintegration of Egyptian society." Well, Egyptian women would have none of that. Protests erupted in Egypt, and work at the UN continued.
The strong-willed women, girls, and men at the conference were determined to work through the many complications, cultural differences, and language nuances, and dedicated the long hours it took to tediously parse every paragraph -- word by word, to arrive at a document that could finally be adopted by all 193 countries. In the end, the only member state that apparently didn't agree to the final document was Libya, and they, gratefully, did not block adoption of the 18-page text. The final document wasn't perfect, but at least women didn't slide too far back, and the theme for this year, "The Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls," got the governments of the world to stand up, take notice and agree to take it seriously. This document sends a clear signal -- if countries permit the escalating violation of women and girls to continue, they do so at their detriment. As U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, a global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage. No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear."
I, and at least a billion of us, second that.
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